ROCHESTER, Minn. -- The normal way political partisans get fired up is by top-of-ticket contests.
But with President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar apparently doing well in Minnesota, those races may not pull as many Democratic volunteers and donors as in other years.
Instead, long-time DFL activist Thom Peterson said, legislative races will be the driving force.
Peterson, of Pine City, said congressional races such as in his northeast and east-central district also will inspire Democrats.
Legislative races were a frequent topic at Saturday's Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Laborite convention. Democrats lost House and Senate control two years ago, a fact that hung over the convention.
Many speakers told delegates they need to avoid being overconfident for the top races.
Delegate Rita Albrecht of Bemidji said the message from speaker after speaker at a pre-convention breakfast was to keep working, even if Obama and Klobuchar appear headed to Minnesota wins. She said she is confident Democrats will volunteer and donate.
"You can't underestimate Kurt Bills at all," Peterson said of Klobuchar's Republican opponent. "He has some fire."
Looking back two years, Democrats pointed to the Wisconsin election of Ron Johnson to U.S. Senate over a long-time Democratic senator. And closer to home, they recalled Republican Chip Cravaack's upset of veteran U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.
Peterson said he worries about "people taking the race for granted."
In an interview, Klobuchar said Democrats are behind her and "ready to go."
DFL Chairman Ken Martin said that even though his party is in a legislative minority it accomplished a lot this year.
"Our victories this year, and the defeats that preceded them, showed us the value of unity," Martin said. "Our time in the minority has taught us important lessons about working together, lessons we are applying and will continue to apply. It's how we will regain control of both houses of the Legislature."
Clay County delegate Larry Nicholson said he hopes other Democrats follow his lead and vote in every election.
Two years ago, when the party lost its legislative majorities, too many DFL voters were apathetic, he said.
Nicholson said he hopes Democrats learned their lesson two years ago.
Gov. Mark Dayton said he is not worried: "There is no compliancy whatsoever."
But U.S. Sen. Al Franken told delegates that Klobuchar can win "only if you work for it."
Rick Nolan, running in the 8th Congressional District, is a veteran of party politics and said he never has sensed as much unity as he saw Saturday.
"I'm feeling the wind at my back, are you?" he asked, receiving cheers as an answer.
DFL delegates gave an American Crystal Sugar Co. employee two standing ovations Saturday when she asked for their support against a company lockout.
LaVonne Froemke of Crookston told delegates that workers want to be on the job, but the company has shown "clear corporate greed" after earning "record profits."
"Our message is cooperate and negotiate," she said.
Froemke, a DFL convention delegate for 10 years, asked delegates to contribute money for union members and send postcards to the company protesting the lockout.4
The company locked out workers 10 months ago. New negotiations are planned next week.
Minnesota Democrats unanimously voted to fight two Republican-written constitutional amendment proposals.
Speaker after speaker criticized the proposals that go in front of voters in the Nov. 6 election.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, representing southern Minnesota, said a proposal to define marriage as between a man and a woman is unMinnesotan and a second proposal to require photo identification before voting would roll back a tradition of opening the election process to more people.
Minnesota's only openly gay senator, Scott Dibble of Minneapolis, said Democrats should oppose the marriage amendment because "in Minnesota, we know that love is love."
Even if the amendment fails, state law still defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Dayton was barred from the DFL convention two years ago because he planned to run in the primary election, ignoring the convention's endorsement process.
After a year and a half as governor, he received a standing ovation when he spoke Saturday.
"Thanks for letting me in this year," he joked.
The governor said he felt like delegates received him well and did not worry about two years ago: "It's history."
Speakers at the convention certainly appreciated him, often reminding delegates that without him Minnesota would look like Wisconsin, with a GOP governor and Legislature.
Dayton called Wisconsin "a poor, ugly stepchild."
"We must elect DFL majorities to the Minnesota House and Minnesota Senate," he said. "We must."
"I do not want to go another two years of gridlock and deadlock," he added.
To no one's surprise, DFLers took pleasure at criticizing Republicans.
"While we stand united in our values, the Republicans in Minnesota stand in disarray," Party Chairman Ken Martin said. "A Grand Old Party beset by scandal, riddled with debt and torn apart at the seams by infighting. An already far-right party being pushed even further right by candidates like Kurt Bills, Chip Cravaack, and Michele Bachmann."
Walz piled on by thanking Martin for paying the rent, a reference to Republican financial struggles, which include falling behind on its headquarters' rent.
The congressman also reminded Democrats that things could be worse, from their point of view. "The difference between Wisconsin and Minnesota is Mark Dayton and 8,400 votes."
Iron Rangers fought a platform plank they say would hurt a new type of mining and give ammunition to Republicans.
Votes on the proposal were not expected to be counted until Sunday, but Saturday discussion appeared to favor the plank as written.
The plank said "sulfide mining" only would be permitted "if regulations are strictly enforced" to protect water. It would require mining companies prove they will not affect water before opening a mine.
"Do not allow us to make a statement against mining," state Rep. Carly Melin of Hibbing pleaded.
The issue is about whether copper and nickel mining will be allowed in northeastern Minnesota. Melin said it is the largest deposit of the minerals in North America and second largest in the world.
"Those are things that China cannot take away from us, no matter how hard they try," she added.
Others, however, argued that all they were asking is to prove mining is safe.
Those siding with Melin said they worried that Cravaack would use the platform plank against Democrats, saying they are against mining.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said a state deficit is part of a Republican plan.
With a deficit, he said, "there is no money and no effort to invest in our state's future."
He urged delegates "to get us out of crisis management."
Franken, up for re-election in two years, thanked delegates for helping his campaign four years ago, an election that resulted in a recount with Sen. Norm Coleman.
"I promised you it wouldn't be easy, and I kept that promise," he said.